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10 July 2020

274: Think ahead to the next election

It is always worth considering some options for the future so that you can plan for them. Some will come to pass, others will date quite badly. But thinking ahead to where policy and government may go can help you gain a tactical advantage over others.

There is always a danger of thinking in a very positive way about the future but some policies and approaches change the traditional way of doing politics. The COVID-19 may not change everything as some are suggesting but there is no doubt that it provides the government with the opportunity to make changes. I am a little sceptical about changes in politics itself. World War Two may have helped to deliver the NHS but the adversarial nature of politics itself has changed little since the birth of the Labour Party.

But I thought I would take the opportunity of this blog to think about what politics and the government may look like at the time of the next General Election.

  1. The end of the Union – everything we see about relations between Westminster and Holyrood, not least the heightened tensions over Brexit and the differing responses to COVID-19, infers that a break is coming. The Scottish Government has already announced its intention to hold another referendum and is actively preparing for it. Whether Westminster will agree to their demands and what the implications could be are unclear. But the end of the Union looks increasingly likely. There could also be tensions with Northern Ireland as well, given the government’s apparent acceptance that border checks will be needed.
  2. Politicisation of the civil service – serious reform of the civil service is looking more likely. There could be 22,000 civil servants moving out of London by 2030 and the establishment of an ‘economic campus’ in the North of England staffed by around 750 officials and drawn from across the Treasury, DIT, BEIS and MHCLG. But more fundamental could be the appointment of outside experts and the criteria for their appointment. We could be seeing the first signs of US-style polarisation. To say that would have a massive impact, not just on public affairs, would be an understatement.
  3. Changed political geography – quite possibly driven by the drive towards Scottish independence, we are likely to see a shifting political and decision-making geography in England. The 2019 Conservative manifesto promised more devolution with speculation of more mayors. The, still forthcoming, English Devolution White Paper / Local Recovery White Paper will need to address many issues but whether a government possibly still recovering from COVID-19 will want to let go is a different matter.
  4. A bigger state – the government will not have had time to strip itself back following COVID-19. It will continue to have a bigger role in our lives, quite possibly running more services or being involved as a ‘shareholder’, than many of us will be able to remember. That delivers a more existential threat to what it means to be a Conservative Government and what Labour stands for in such circumstances.
  5. No Boris – there is a fair chance that the Prime Minister that faces the country at the next election will not be Boris Johnson. There is a COVID-19 public inquiry to navigate (with PPE and care homes), a restless parliamentary party and potential rivals already starting the circle. So a new Tory leader with a new agenda is something to be considered even though Boris has only just been elected with a large majority.

I write these in a blog knowing that they could come back to haunt me but in terms of thinking ahead to the future and building them into a public affairs plan it is always a useful exercise.

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